Block That Metaphor!

Watching sports on TV this month, and turning 64 too, has stuck a metaphor in my head like a basketball wedged between the backboard and the rim; I shall relate it here in the hope that some pointed words, properly flung, may poke it loose.

“Is it a basketball analogy then?” you ask, trembling.

NO! Worse: It’s football. Go sit on the bench and listen.

Reaching 64 is like entering the Red Zone of Life.

I mean, if life (as I suspect) is a journey towards G-d, then you embark from your own end zone, unable even to see the goal line that seems so far away.

You face a long, difficult and sometimes painful path, but as the game wears on you gain more confidence. You feel that you’re the quarterback here, and can call the plays.

At the same time, you also become more and more invested in reaching that goal line, seeing that you have teammates who have put their own efforts into the game and seeing how your life has depended on them in so many ways – and theirs on you. You know how indebted you are to them, and you know that if you fail, you’re letting them down, too. This realization is a tremendous burden, but it also increases your determination to keep going. (And even if you’re the best, smartest, most athletic player on the field, in many situations you need good luck. The great American philosopher Jimmy Dean once said, “You gotta try your luck at least once a day. Otherwise, you might be going around lucky all day and never know it.”)

As you make your way downfield, sometimes you make progress through luck and sometimes through your own skill. You suffer many losses, but somehow you keep moving and, if you’re lucky enough to still be playing when you reach your mid-60s, you begin to see the Big Picture. You start to understand what your role has been, and to gain the wisdom to evaluate how you’ve been doing, what plays have worked best for you, and why, who your most reliable teammates are and who you’ve most liked having on your side.

In my own case, there have been precious few spectacular, long completed passes (I did win a ticket to see the Beatles in Shea Stadium in 1966, after which I promised G-d I would never ask Him for anything again; I did, while pregnant, break that vow and through grace alone did indeed give birth to a healthy child). Many times I have been thrown for a loss (my mother died when I was 9; I was divorced when my daughter was in first grade). But in general, it has been three yards and a cloud of dust on every play, after which I rise bruised, confused and weary. Overall, I’ve done about average.

But dear G-d, it’s been fun! And now, the goalposts are just ahead. The long, long field has become a very short one. Things are much simpler here; everybody’s bunched up together. Extraordinary speed and long passes are unneeded; just plow ahead and don’t fumble.

It’s also much more exciting now than it’s ever been; more is riding on each decision, because you have so few left to make.

How do I want to be remembered? Have I forgiven everyone? Will my teammates think of me with a smile when I’m gone, and say I gave it everything I had?

The funny thing is, I have never figured out the game plan. I’m not even sure there is one — if one is ever needed. As I embark on my 65th year of life, I’m getting the idea that maybe just grit and luck is all you need.

And, as the Beatles said, Love.

Let’s Strike Out the Lame Metaphors

Harmon Killebrew recently, wisely, decided to spend his last few days hitting pain out of the park. He threw out misery. He cut down suffering on the base paths. And he trotted home as he had lived his life, in dignity and peace.

He said No to the toxic chemicals that could wither his body and mind, and No to being burned and blasted by radiation.

In rejecting these treatments, which are often called “heroic” in medical circles, this truly heroic man deserved more from the news and sports media than to be described as having “given up his fight” against cancer.

Choosing Hospice is both a brave and positive choice, allowing you to say goodbye to your friends and family while you still have your faculties, and then to go on to your next adventure.

Did Harmon Killebrew seem like a quitter to you? If not, then why did so many of us turn him into one in our stories? (Answer: Because it was quick and easy. The media all too often describe those who choose Hospice as “giving up a fight.” And especially with sports figures who are boxers or other kinds of martial artists, it’s just too hard to resist referring to a person diagnosed with cancer as being in – all together now – “the fight of his life.”)

Let’s use better metaphors when people choose to spend their last days in dignity. Can we gracefully “bow out of the dance with cancer” instead of “giving up” against it? Can we “slam the door on” painful treatments, instead of “surrendering” to them? There are as many great alternative metaphors as there are human attributes and careers.

We in the media also persist in referring to those with cancer as now fighting a “brave battle.” Take another look: What are they doing that makes you think they’re brave? Does being diagnosed with a horrible illness automatically make us all brave? And what, exactly, would a “cowardly battle” consist of?

When I’ve reached the last chapter of my own story, I hope to gather friends and family around me. Like a kid at the summer swimming hole, I hope to grab onto the knotted rope and, with a big grin, yell, “Wheeee! Watch this!” before taking the plunge.

Choosing Hospice care is a great move, available to us all, that checkmates pain at the end-game. There are many fresh and vibrant metaphors for that smart decision.

In writing about people beginning Hospice care, we certainly don’t need to imply that they’re “giving up,” or that they’ve “lost a battle.”

For these kinds of stories, let’s jettison the military imagery. It’s inaccurate, unimaginative, and insulting to our subjects and their families.

What do you say?

Who Are You Calling “Multigenerational”?

I had quite a shock yesterday while leafing through the new (April 24) issue of “The Vision,” the newspaper of the New York Conference of the United Methodist Church. There, on Page 8A, are two photos i had taken during a recent hike with my husband, Tim, and three of his pastor-pals. i was given NO credit for the photos (i guess it’s not very Christian of me to even notice that), much less for bringing along the most recent trail guide to that hike, binoculars, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, camera and by far the most water. No, no; none of that bothered me.

At all. As you can tell.

Instead, what got me was this young pastor-dude’s description of our hiking group (5 people, including me). First, he wrote that our group “consisted of four clergy and one clergy spouse, with varying degrees of ‘maturity.'”

First of all, when you put quotes around “maturity” like that, it means you know that all the youngsters reading this are winking at one another and jabbing one another in the ribs, amused and sympathic with your efforts to not say the offensive word, “age.” (Can you please count me out of your little group, people? Age is a GOOD thing! May you all age!) And then the other thing that got me was, in describing the hike*, he wrote, “We struggled and panted our way to three peaks, amidst scenic waterfalls, rock formations, and a climb called ‘The Devil’s Staircase.’ It sounds rough, and it was, but it was more than enjoyable for our multigenerational team.”

I came to a dead stop. “‘Multigenerational’?” There were five of us … all about my age, or a little younger. All adults. No kids, no grandparents. “Multigenerational”?! i read that sentence to Tim, totally flummoxed. i had gotten to know David a bit during that four-hour hike because i deliberately slowed down several times so i could talk with him. He’s no dope. He couldn’t possibly misuse the word “multigenerational,” could he? Tim laughed and said, “Genie, you’re old enough to be David’s mother.”

If i live to September, i’ll be 60. I guess David, who described himself in the first paragraph of his story as “a young pastor,” could be 30. i guess that made our group “multigenerational.”

Son of a bitch. i’m now the one making hikes be “multigenerational.” So OK, here’s the thing: If you want to have a strong, experienced hiker with you — one who remembers to bring the hand sanitizer, toilet paper,  compass, and enough water — bring someone multigenerational. And hope you don’t piss her off.

And take the quotes off of “maturity.”

*It’s the Fitzgerald Falls to Little Dam Lake hike, in the Ramapo Mountains south of Monroe. Find a good description of it in the 2nd edition of Christopher and Catherine Brooks’ “60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of New York City.”  The book says it’s 6 hours round-trip but our group, replete with people of another generation, took four hours to do it one-way. We left one car near Little Dam Lake and started from Fitzgerald Falls. Enjoy!

Who Moved My Lips?

I woke up this morning, looked in the mirror, and saw that my lips were gone.

No, that’s not the first line of “The Senior Citizen Blues” … or, maybe it is.

But it’s also the truth.

I’m not as old as I could be; if I live to September, I’ll be 60. But I’ll tell you what: My lips are gone. I have no more lips than a lizard.

It didn’t happen all in a day, or even a month. I first started noticing my lips shrinking last year, in fact. But as of today, they are definitely history. The pinkish skin is there, and that’s about it.

I’ll miss them. I used to have cute little lips; nothing to write home about, for sure, but perfectly fine. They fit my face. They were rather small, but “normal,” in that the bottom one was thicker and fuller than the top one, which my adoring but partially blind husband sometimes describes as a “bow.”

No more, baby. Where I used to have lips, front and center, an inch or so under my nose, it now looks as though someone inserted a credit card, edgewise. I have nothing but a series of fine, vertical hash-marks, where my lips used to be.

Oh, well: easy come, easy go. I can still kiss and eat with these thin, baggy things, so I guess I can’t complain.

But if you see a pair of lips lying around doing nothing, send them home, will ya?